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Fall 2009
Special Edition Vol. 2 of 5

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Jackson Innovation Scholars develop critical thinking skills

Scholarship supports independent research for Messiah College students

Donny McKnight and Frank Jackson

Office of Marketing and Public Relations

Donny McKnight ’11 (right) a biology major with an environmental science minor and a recipient of a Jackson Innovation Scholars Award, uses radial telemetry equipment to track the movement of box turtles on campus. Dr. Frank Jackson (left), a retired gastroenterologist, recently established the scholarship to support students in creative areas of study.


“The thrill of innovation,” says Dr. Frank Jackson, “is when students use the brain skills they learned in college to develop ideas beyond the parameters of standard college curriculum.” 

To encourage Messiah College students to develop their powers of critical thinking, Jackson, a retired gastroenterologist, inventor, and friend of the College, has established the Jackson Innovation Scholarship program which combines his longtime interests in education, science, art, and entrepreneurship.

Last spring, three Messiah students submitted proposals for research projects that would continue through the remainder of their years at Messiah and each was awarded a scholarship.

Jen Esbenshade ’11, a chemistry/math double major will be studying the relationship between the level of heavy metals in soil and in the vegetables grown in that soil; Donny McKnight ’11, a biology major with a minor in environmental science will conduct research on box turtles on campus; and Seolah Lee ’11, a studio art major will be studying Asian and Western art with the goal of developing her own unique, blended style of painting. Don Murk, professor of education and a fellow in the College’s Ernest L. Boyer Center says this scholarship is important because it gives students a valuable opportunity to explore “this whole notion of creativity and imagination which is so critical to higher education.”

Profiles of the award recipients

Donny Mc Knight ’11, biology major with an environment science minor, spent his last two summers studying box turtles in Maryland where he was completing an internship. The Jackson Innovation Scholars award he received is now allowing him to continue to develop his field research techniques as he conducts a similar project in a different geographic region, the woods on the Messiah College campus.

Mc Knight, who lived in Jamaica until the age of 15, loves being out of doors. “There is no professor or classroom that is better than God’s creation,” he says. In class you learn the scientific method, but Mc Knight enjoys interacting with his subjects in the wild. He is using radial telemetry—electronic transmitters and a gps— to map out the movement of the turtles. The receiver signals will help him to actually track the turtles and go out to find them and observe what they’re doing. 

The funds he has received through the Jackson Innovation Scholars program are helping with the cost of the equipment Mc Knight needs for his research. Grateful for the financial support, he says, “I think it’s a great investment. It’s good for students to have opportunities to do hands on learning. I probably wouldn’t have been able to take the time to study this the way I am. 

After he completes his degree at Messiah, he hopes to attend graduate school. “I’ve always been into science,” Mc Knight says. “Reptiles are what I really love.”

female turtle which is being trackedcourtesy of Donny McKnight '11


Jen Esbenshade ’11 is double majoring in chemistry and math and is hoping to minor in statistics. While working on chemical analysis of soil with Professor Richard Shafer, she felt a growing curiosity about the relationship of heavy metals in soil and the level of heavy metals in vegetables that are grown in that soil. She received the Jackson Innovation Scholar award this past spring which will allow her to do extended research on this topic.

While Messiah’s labs have the equipment she’ll need for chemical analysis, the funds she receives from the award will help to pay for gardening supplies and greenhouse needs. Esbenshade will establish her own controlled area and will plant her own plants in soil that’s been spiked with heavy metals. But this semester will consist of the preliminary research. Esbenshade says, “I have to make sure that my methods for determining the amount of metals in the soil and the plants work.”

“This will be much more independent than class work,” she says.  “I’m not given a lab manual and told to follow the procedure. I actually come up with the procedure.” She is doing online research to find out what other scientists are doing in this field, saying, “I don’t want to simply replicate what someone else has already done.” Esbenshade wants to propose this research, which will help prepare her for the research she’ll be doing in graduate school,  as a departmental honors project.

Seolah Leecourtesy of Seolah Lee '11

Seolah (left) took a trip last summer to Korea and Indonesia to study art.  Here she is pictured in Bali with Indonesian painter Chusin Setiadikara.

Seolah Lee '11

studio art major from Jeju, Korea

Please briefly describe your goals for your Jackson Innovation Scholar project:

The ultimate goal of my Jackson Innovation Scholar project is to invent my own painting style. I intend to utilize and depict Asian characteristics, as well as using the western orientation I have studied in both Korea and the United States. I believe that this would be a great opportunity for me to explore new areas beyond the Messiah College curriculum, and find a new style of painting.

How do you think the learning process during this project will differ from your other classroom learning at Messiah College?

I went to a number of art museums in Korea and Indonesia last summer, and had an opportunity to visit famous Indonesian painters’ studios. I was so excited when I met the artists and appreciate their works at the same time. They told me how they usually work, and what they want to say through their paintings. It was a precious experience that I could never get at Messiah College. I am planning to go to Europe this coming spring. This is very stimulating job to find my own way of learning. I think that the biggest difference between the learning process of Jackson Innovation Scholar project and classes at Messiah College is that I could experience the realistic atmosphere of professional field outside of classroom.

What words of appreciation would you care to share with Dr. Jackson?

I am deeply grateful to Dr. Jackson. When I first heard about this scholarship, I did not really expect that I would get it. This would be a precious experience of my life. It truly made me more active to carve out my future. Now I got a concrete plan for my last year at Messiah College, and I am so excited to prepare it.


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